Helen “Nellie” Laetitia Mooney, born October 20, 1873 in a log cabin on Garafraxa Road, two kilometers from Chatsworth, Ontario, moved to Manitoba with her family at the age of six. Her mother’s influence shaped her into an activist as they believed in the right to education for every child. Nellie attended Northfield School at the age of ten, where her education began. Inspired by her sister Hannah, she aspired to become a teacher, one of the limited career options available to women. Nellie embarked on her educational journey by passing the Second Class Teachers’ Examination at fifteen. In 1893, she obtained a higher teaching certificate from Winnipeg Collegiate and later taught at Hazel Public School near Manitou, Manitoba.
Nellie McClung, a renowned feminist and social activist, gained popularity for her exceptional skills as a public speaker. Initially recognized as an author, she wrote numerous books including four novels, two novellas, three collections of short stories, a two-volume autobiography, and various compilations of speeches, articles, and wartime writings. These sixteen volumes served as her platform to advocate for feminist activism and societal change. McClung firmly believed in the God-intended equality for all individuals and viewed the Canadian prairie West as an ideal starting point for this transformative movement. Her dedication to women’s suffrage, temperance, and female ordination was profound. She skillfully addressed these causes by employing wit, humor, and the ability to win over adversaries while pleasing supporters. From a young age,Nellie always had an inquisitive nature; she consistently asked questions—an uncommon behavior among girls at that time.Despite being told it was not allowed for her to participate in sports with boys due to concerns about immodesty caused by skirts flying up and exposing legs—an act considered inappropriate for females—Nellie desired races specifically designed for girls under ten or mixed-gender races. Like many influential philosophers from history, she continually questioned the reasoning behind societal norms. She had an unwavering thirst for answers and yearned for a future where gender equality existed. Nellie, a teacher, made sure that girls could participate in activities like football with boys. Her inspiration for fighting for women’s rights came from Annie McClung, leading her to marry Annie’s son Wesley in a Presbyterian Church at 23 years old. After getting married, Nellie devoted herself to helping women pursue a better world. Witnessing the mistreatment of women by alcoholic husbands, she believed that granting women the right to vote would bring changes in liquor laws. This belief was shared by activists in Britain, the United States, and Canada where suffrage and prohibition demands were interconnected due to wives having little legal control over their husbands’ earnings during the early 1900s. To combat alcohol abuse, Nellie later joined the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.). Throughout her extensive political career greatly influenced by her intelligence and witShe had a passion for reading the novels of Charles Dickens that her brother Will gave to her, and she aspired to make a similar impact on the lives of Canadians because she admired Dickens as a writer. Her main objective was to bring attention to the unfortunate circumstances faced by those who were exploited and treated unjustly in her country. Society held the belief that women were confined to household duties with an emphasis on attracting a husband; however, wives lacked legal rights within the institution of marriage. Nellie McClung, along with other individuals in various countries, fought for women’s rights. Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst established the Women’s Social and Political Union in Britain in 1903, which became the leading organization advocating for women’s suffrage. The struggle for women’s suffrage became more radical after 1905. Eventually, British women gained voting rights in 1918, while all female British citizens achieved equal voting rights with men ten years later (37, Benham). By 1916, American women already possessed equal voting rights with men in fifteen states. Nellie McClung played a significant role in advocating for women’s suffrage. The Premier of Manitoba disagreed with her perspective on the matter and suggested that “nice women” did not desire the right to vote. Nellie responded by speculating that he was referring to self-centered individuals who lacked concern for underprivileged and overworked women. She made it clear that she did not fit this definition as she genuinely cared about their causeOn January 10, 1916, Manitoba became the first province in Canada to grant women the right to vote, thanks to Nellie’s efforts and numerous petitions. Despite this success, Nellie continued advocating for Canadian women. Four years later, she delivered a persuasive and witty speech in Montreal. Eventually, in 1918, the federal government granted most women in Quebec the right to vote in federal elections. In a humorous manner, Nellie also expressed concerns about excessive male voting and its potential negative consequences such as unpaid bills, damaged furniture, broken promises or even divorce. As time passed and women gained more rights, they were gradually included in political positions. One notable example is when Nellie McClung successfully became a Liberal member of the Alberta provincial legislature in 1921. Unfortunately, her political career ended after losing an election in 1926.
Nellie McClung became the sole female member appointed to the Board of Governors of the CBC in 1936. In 1938, at 65 years old, she represented Canada as the exclusive female delegate to the League of Nations. The Canadian prime minister, Sir Robert Borden, recognized her contributions by appointing her as the lone woman member of the Dominion War Council. Despite raising five children and experiencing heart attacks in old age, Nellie remained dedicated to advocating for women’s rights until her death in 1951 at 78 years old. She prophesied that a day would come when all barriers would fall and all opportunities would be open for women. (68, Wright) Nellie McClung serves as an example of how women can fulfill their roles as loving mothers and wives while also being responsible and valuable contributors to society. She embodies determination, strength, and bravery possessed by Canadian women. (29, McCarthy) The impact of one woman can be extraordinary!Works Cited McClung, Nellie In Times Like These University of Toronto Press, Toronto: 1972.
ISBN 0-8020-1823-8Warne, Randi R. Literature as Pulpit: the Christian social activism of Nellie L. McClung, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Toronto: 1993. ISBN 0-88920-235-4Wright, Helen K. Nellie McClung and Women’s Rights, The Book Society of Canada Ltd., 1980.ISBN 0-7725-5290-8McCarthy, Tom Nellie McClung, The Girl Who Liked To Ask Questions, Benham, Mary Lile The Canadians: Nellie McClung, Fitzhenry & Whiteside Ltd. , Don Mills, Ontario, 1975. ISBN 0-88902-219-4 2 ——————————————————————————–